Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Why are parishes being combined as one?

In the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, we are in the midst of a diocesan-wide reorganization entitled "Beacons of Light." After a couple of years of high-level situation-assessing, evaluating and planning, the 200 or so parishes were grouped into about 55 "families" of parishes; in a few cases, really large parishes remained on their own, but otherwise, the new families were made up of anywhere from two-to-seven parishes, headed by a pastor, and assisted by one or more vicars, or associates.

There are two basic elements to the plan: (1) organizing or reorganizing parishes well, as a prelude to the greater need, which is (2) evangelizing.

There is a fairly detailed road-map for every family of parish to follow, involving ongoing assessing of what the parishes, individually and as a family, are doing well or else need help doing; charting ways to bring things together, and at the end of five years, the "family" of parishes will be combined as a single legal entity.

This latter part of the plan has some folks, particularly up north in the more rural areas, upset. They are against combining parish legal structures; they want their individual parish to remain stand-alone as a legal entity, regardless of the fact that one priest will be pastor over this and several other individual parishes.

I will let them explain for themselves why this is important to them.

My job here it to explain why not combining the parishes legally is bad. It will be bad for the pastor; and that, in the end, will be bad for the people.

The short answer: 

Because if you don't take these steps, especially combining parishes as a single legal entity, the result will be either a neglectful pastor, or else a pastor who is miserable and will want to go elsewhere, very possibly out of the priesthood.

Now, some further explanation.

The two reasons for reorganizing:

1) Not enough pastor-capable priests for the whole archdiocese.

2) Not enough people in the pews in many parts of the archdiocese.

Note that I said, "pastor-capable" priests. People say, look, we ordained seven new priests, why don't we have enough pastors? Just being ordained does not make you ready to be a pastor; our new priests will need several years experience before they become pastor; and trust me, you want that, too. 

Even then, some of our priests who are good and holy, find that they aren't suited to be pastors. If I named names, you'd nod and agree: a good priest, but he'd make a terrible pastor.

Beyond the normal duties of a priest -- regarding Mass, confessions, sacraments, visiting the sick, teaching, assisting people preparing for sacraments, counseling people in difficulties, and the like -- are the special duties of a pastor, which involve planning, diplomacy, crisis-management, managing employees and financial responsibilities.

The pastor can and should have help in these matters, but it is fantasy to think he can delegate it all. 

The person who writes a budget sets priorities. People can say, we must make X or Y a "priority," but if those who write the budget allot $1,000 a year for it, then they decided it won't be a priority.

Two things I've learned better this past year: if you don't plan before you act, you (and everyone) will be sorry. And, planning is work that takes time and focus. As with budgeting, the one who does the planning is the one who runs the parish. I don't mean the pastor should be the sole decider; I mean, he can't leave the room.

The pastor himself is responsible for overseeing the managing of parish money. Again, lots of people help, but none of this self-regulates. Who oversees the overseers? Unless he takes time, time, time, his oversight is a transparent pretense. Lack of oversight is how errors and overspending creep in, and worse, actual fraud.

So, of course, a priest can breeze through all this by turning over all the key decision-making to staff or especially powerful volunteers. But that priest is pastor in name only. What's more, the odds are high that the system will eventually break down for lack of dedicated leadership, after some period of meandering auto-pilot. 

So why must parishes be combined into a single legal entity if they share a pastor?

Because a pastor has irreducible responsibilities to the legal entity he leads (which we call a "parish.") If he heads more than one parish, he must at times act as if he is two people. Four parishes? Four people, and so forth.

By the way, despite customary language, "parish" doesn't equate to "church building." In most people's experience in this country, "parish" means church; so when someone says, we're going to combine several parishes into one, it means, closing several beloved church buildings, to be turned into a B&B, or else demolished. 

In fact, "parish" in church law refers to what otherwise we might call a corporation: a defined legal entity. A single parish can have more than one actively-used churches.

Here's what it seems some people want: they want the single pastor to administer the individual parishes as if they stand alone. What they don't realize is that they are asking a single priest to act as if he is two, three, four, seven, or more people. Impossible!

Every set of books must be kept separate; and reviewed.

If the parish staffs are kept separate, that greatly multiplies the pastor's duty as a supervisor.

If the finance and pastoral councils, and other organizations, are kept separate, the pastor multiplies the meetings he attends. But then, what else do we want him for, but to attend meetings?

All this would be bad enough, as long as everyone gets along and doesn't get suspicious of the other parishes in the "family." But what does a pastor -- who has a fiduciary responsibility to each parish -- do when the following happens:

Father Earnest meets with Parish A pastoral council. They tell him: "make Parish B pay more!" The next night, Father meets with Parish B pastoral council. They say, "make Parish A pay more!" If they won't work together, tell me how Father acts as the advocate of both, fairly, in that situation?

The Archdiocese, in setting on this path, adopted the principle of, "one pastor means one parish." That is, if a single priest was going to be pastor of several parishes for the foreseeable future (rather than a short-term thing), then the parishes must become a united legal entity. It won't work (except badly or miserably) any other way.

If you can't understand why forcing your pastor to administer separate parishes will make him miserable, try asking. It will. Or it will make him decide to be a figurehead, waiting for his next assignment. Or he will find unhealthy ways to deal with stress. Or he will quit the priesthood.

Update @ 3:08 pm.

Two more points. First, to address the two grave concerns people always have about combining parishes: money and keeping the church open.

There are very easy and very secure ways to ensure your money goes where you want it to go. Ask and I'll explain.

And if you're worried about your church closing, ask: are people showing up? Are people willing to pay for its upkeep? If yes to both, what's the worry? Some of my fellow priests are indeed stupid, but you have to be amazingly stupid to shut down a church that is well used and maintained. 

Second, there's no denying we're in this soup because of a lot of bad decisions over recent decades. People always want to relitigate all that, understandably, but that doesn't deal with where we are. It's so tempting to blame it all on this or that thing (Vatican II! Abuse scandal! Not promoting marriage!), when it's a product of lots of things. In any case, I consider it a positive that the Archdiocese is turning, as a whole, toward evangelizing. Out of that will, I believe, come some important course corrections, but it takes time. Some of the course-correction may well be beyond what a pastor can do. And none of that discussion helps a pastor know how to manage things day to day in AD 2023.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Fear or Jesus (Sunday homily)

 Sometimes I wonder how many people gathered around our Lord Jesus 

were really listening to everything he said.


I’m not na├»ve; I realize not everyone is always listening to what I say!


That’s not a criticism; parents have children to watch over. 

People come to Mass after not much sleep, or after a long day’s work.

It would have been the same way when Jesus stood up to speak.


So, now, let me try to focus your attention 

on three words in the Gospel – they came and went in an instant.


Jesus said: “Fear no one.” Fear no one.


Notice, this is not a promise that nothing bad will ever happen.

That no one will ever bully or even injure us, as befell Jeremiah.


What Jesus is saying is that, 

when you and I are clear about who he is, and who we are to him, 

and what he has prepared for us, then…


There truly is nothing and no one to fear.


Someone might say, aren’t we supposed to “fear” God?

Yes, but not in the sense Jesus means here.


“Fear of God” means recognizing the awe and reverence God deserves. 

Growing up, I “feared” my dad; not in the sense that I cringed or hid.

Rather, in the sense that I understood his authority and power, 

and I did not want to offend him or disrespect him.


So in the case of Jesus himself. 

He makes himself familiar to us; yet at the same time, 

it is entirely right to remember that, in becoming our brother, 

he remains our Lord and God.


Alternately, someone might say, shouldn’t we fear the devil?


No, not “fear.” Take him seriously as our enemy? Absolutely. 

There are spiritual powers seeking my destruction and yours,

and it is foolish to dismiss that. Jesus takes the devil seriously.

People mess around with these spiritual forces to their great sorrow.


Our baptism is our perfect safeguard, 

because it brings the Holy Trinity to dwell in us, 

and we to dwell in the Trinity. When we stay where Jesus put us:

Nothing to fear.


And if we do stray, a good confession brings us back to perfect safety.


After that, what else would we fear? 

We all experience fear: of sickness, or death, or financial peril, 

or someone we love getting into a bad spot. The list is endless.


Yet Jesus says, scratch it all off your list.

When you and I have prayed, and offered what help we can, 

and made what decisions or changes we can make, what else is there?


What good does fear or anxiety do at that point?


I’ve been in an airplane when it went thumpy-thumpy. Not pleasant!

What did I do? I prayed a good of contrition. Believe me, I meant it!

I looked around to check out the situation. 

One time a lady nearby was freaking out, scaring her kids.

I said to her, “Ma’am, that’s not helping.” She settled down.


Obviously we landed safely. But if not?


Then, for those who were friends of God, we’d still have landed safely!

If not on the runway, then into the hand of our Creator.


No one wants to think of war or cancer or any other crisis as a gift.


I knew a priest who lived seven years with terminal cancer.

He had the gift – and he gave us around him the gift – of no illusions. 

That enabled him to be ready for eternity, 

and he was more ready for each day in this life as well.


The poor people in Ukraine aren’t under any illusions 

about what truly is permanent, what they can control, 

what really matters.


You and I can think of what we have – or could have – as an entitlement. 

Then we can be worked up with envy for others, 

and bitter when things slip through our fingers, as they inevitably will. 


Or: realize everything is a gift. You and I have this moment. 

We have Jesus Christ and everything that is his.

Nothing else is promised. 


Friday, June 23, 2023

Nancy Pelosi's ideas about the priesthood

 


This story is from March, but I didn't have time to do anything with it at the time.


Pelosi: Women Should Be Priests: 'That Is Real Power'


...Speaking at an event at Georgetown University last week, Pelosi said that she had been "attracted" to the notion of being a priest because of the power of the clerical office. But she added it was disappointing Pope Francis had not permitted the ordination of women to the Catholic priesthood.

"Every day [priests] have the power … of turning bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, that is real power, now we're talking power, and that's why I was more attracted to that than being a nun," Pelosi said during a conversation with Rev. Jim Wallis, the director of the Georgetown University Center on Faith and Justice, according to the Washington Examiner.


A story like this most likely needs no commentary. Just count the number of times Ms. Pelosi used one particular word:

"Every day [priests] have the power … of turning bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, that is real power, now we're talking POWER, and that's why I was more attracted to that than being a nun..."

That made me think of...


Now, there's truth here. 

God's Power is real, and it is an astounding truth of our faith that he entrusts some of that power to human beings, in a very obvious way, to priests. As former Speaker Palpa-, er, Pelosi said, "that's real power"! (I'd loved to have been at her talk, just to see the force lightning erupt from her fingertips.) 

I might add, bishops have the same power, and even more: they ordain priests and other bishops. The entire existence of the Church on earth depends, in a sense, on them. If every bishop on earth disappeared, there would never be any more priests, and no more bishops to ordain them. We would no longer have the Eucharist. We would have but the sacraments of baptism and matrimony, and our own acts of contrition in place of the power --

POWER! UNLIMITED POWER!!!!

Please, Ms. Pelosi, settle down! (Hands her a gold ring to hold on to)

Now, what was I saying? Oh yes, acts of contrition in place of the p-, er, sacrament of confession. And in place of the sacrament of anointing, we'd have...Our own prayers for healing. It would be terribly sad to lose so much of our treasure as Catholics, but...

Do you realize that many times in the life of the Church, that's exactly what many Christians, even many Catholics, experienced? In Mexico and England and France, among other places, bishops were driven out and priests were hunted. The Catholic Faith first came to Korea by way of laypeople, who baptized and shared the teachings of Christ, and they prayed for priests to bring them the rest of the sacraments; that took awhile. Meanwhile, with but the grace of baptism, with nothing other then faith, they found (looks around to see where Rep. Pelosi went, drops to a whisper)...

>>power<< 

to evangelize, and even to die for the faith. They are martyrs under the Lord's throne! 

Nor forget our Protestant brothers and sisters, who with only baptism and matrimony, have so often put us Catholics to shame with their witness, even to death.

That all sounds like, well (looks around furtively), I don't want to say it out loud, because, well, you know. That (mouthing the word silently) belongs to every believer.

Every believer.

I won't deny that some priests and bishops and higher-ups in the church have the same lust for you-know-what. My point is, that's not what any of this is about. It is hard to think of a worse way to approach the priesthood, or to decide why this or that person should be ordained. I provided the image at the head of this to remind you that, yes, Smeagol did crave that power, and tremendous evil came as a result. But what became of that lust of his? And if you haven't read the book or seen the film...look, squirrel!

Sunday, June 18, 2023

'That thread is grace' (Sunday homily)

 If you are wondering what thread binds all these readings together, 

I will tell you what I see. That thread is grace.

What is grace? Here’s a short answer:

Grace is God’s love and life, acting in our lives, to make us like God.


First God nudges and prompts us, and sometimes blocks our way, 

all to point us away from spiritual danger and toward spiritual life.


Those helps, nudges, prompts – which can come in our conscience, 

or from our guardian angel, or from other people – 

is what we call “actual grace.” 


But we also call grace that infusion of God’s own life into our lives.

That is called “sanctifying grace,” because it makes us holy. 

That grace forgives us and changes us to become heavenly.

To become like God.

Jesus gave us the sacraments as certain sources of sanctifying grace.


Here’s an analogy.

A friend looks at you says, you don’t look well. You need to go to doctor.

When you go to the doctor, he says yes, you are very sick – 

but he gives you medicine, and you get better.


The friend’s nudge was “actual grace”;

what the doctor gives – to save you – is an image of sanctifying grace.


Although it helps us understand when we sort and categorize,

ultimately grace boils down to one reality: God.


God is life, God is mercy, God is holy, God is love.

As you and I encounter God, either we are drawn by God, 

and transformed, into God – what we call purgatory and heaven –

Or else we resist and reject his life – and that is hell.

What is absolutely impossible is to remain untouched.


Notice what God told the people in the first reading:

I carried you. And what Paul said: that we were “helpless.”

And what Jesus said: what you receive, you received “without cost.”


So here are two key points I urge you to reflect on deeply. 


First: Grace – God’s love, God’s mercy – it is all a GIFT.

No one earns heaven; no one pays for his or her sins.

It is not necessary; it is not possible.


The only response possible for us is either accepting God’s love – 

surrendering to it – or refusing it.

The idea that you or I could offer any “payment”

is equal parts offensive and laughable.


Second point: God’s grace always is ahead of you.

You may think it was your idea to turn back to God, to put things right; 

but in fact, it was God’s idea first. 

His grace nudges you; supports you, draws you, 

assists you all the way to the destination, which is God himself.


Again: the only thing you and I can contribute is “yes.”

And this is the mystery of it all: 

Even the breath to speak that yes is itself God’s grace!


If it sounds like I’m saying that it is all God, and none of ourselves, 

I am not quite saying that. This is the mystery:

It is as much God, and as little of us as is possible, 

while still some infinitesimal part of us responds.


The wrong conclusion is to say, I can be passive.

Also wrong is to say, as you and I did as kids: “I want to do it myself!”


It is entirely right – and necessary – 

for us to respond with openness, and, ultimately, gratitude. 


This is the rationale to prayer, penance, acts of self-denial,

Mass each Sunday, and regular confession.


None of this is, “I owe God” or, “I have to make God happy.”

No! These are time-tested tools to help us cooperate with God.


When I was a boy, my parents provided everything for me.

But like all the rest of us, at times my father and mother said,

Get off the couch, come help.


My “help” wasn’t that much help; sometimes it was a distraction.

But my folks knew that my response and participation

was going to help me become less selfish, more generous – more human.


Has it occurred to you yet what’s happening right now?

It was God’s grace that brought you and me to this Mass,

to receive his word and assist in his sacrifice at the altar.

Today God gives you GRACE and LIFE.

“Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”


Saturday, June 17, 2023

Madness on full display at NCR


Michael Sean Winters...oh, the poor man!

Sometimes I try to imagine what it must be like for him as part of the team at the "National" "Catholic" "Reporter" (quotation marks meant to indicate that none of these terms is accurate). At one time, I suppose, the editorial team might occasionally get together, but no doubt since Covid, all contact is remote, with additional masking encouraged in case we find out later Covid can travel via Zoom.

Mr. Winters, from what I can gather, has been exposed to serious ideas in the course of getting what was probably a fine education, and every once in a while there is evidence some of that obtained purchase in his mind. I imagine he fancies himself a moderate sort of person; in the midst of the progressive hive-mind that is the "N""C""R," I bet he is suspected of being a crypto-trad (indeed, I know it for a fact, from readers' comments, that got so embarrassing the editors eliminated them); all because every once in a while, he meekly demurs ever so slightly from the Progressive Project. So, for example, he will occasionally say abortion is actually a bad thing, and maybe a law here or there placing some limits on it might not be so awful...but then he seems to fall back in line for awhile. I dread the thought of the struggle sessions that must ensue when he questions the Revolution ever so slightly. 

This is a man who, whenever anyone behaves badly, is quick to roar, "to the guillotine!" (And, yes, he really did bring up that image in reference to people with whom he disagrees.) He has several times in his column urged the bishops to silence this or that person, or remove this or that person; usually for that worst of sins, according to the Progressive Project: being mean. And yet, here is a fellow who -- when attempting to "report" [stifled guffaw] on things he doesn't like -- averts almost instantly to ad hominem. That is, according to my ossified pre-post-modern way of thinking, being mean.

So let us look at the latest bit of eloquence Mr. Winters shared -- on the "transgender" phenomenon:

Bishops, listen to Catholic health workers, not culture warriors, on transgender directives

First of all, I think it's precious that he imagines "the bishops" pay much attention to the "N""C""R," whom very often, the writers in said publication openly complain about. When MSW isn't appealing to the bishops, as here, he is bashing them (notice the sly suggestion in the column that most bishops aren't "smart," apart from one or two that might actually converse with Mr. Winters: "I remember one of the smarter bishops I know telling me..."

I am tempted to delve into the whole "culture warrior" smear, but I think at this point, the gig is up. Almost no one outside the Progressive zone of mutual affirmation can deny there really is a war of ideas and values underway, and those who are resisting are not the aggressors. Mr. Winters advocates unilateral and total disarmament and surrender, which is not only incoherent, but profoundly immoral. It wasn't that long ago when the "N""C""R" made it's reputation on thundering against the sexual abuse of children by a few perverted priests, which too many negligent bishops allowed to flourish. But now that the abuse of children is called "gender affirmation," where is the "N""C""R"? Applauding from a front-row seat.

But let's get to the meat of this. 

What is at issue is whether Catholics, including those in health care, can ever cooperate with lying about human identity, and with mutilation of bodies as a consequence of that lying. This is what so-called "gender therapy" is.

Yes, some people do experience a disassociation or "dysphoria" regarding their sense of sexual or "gender" identity. This is not made up. Why it happens and how to deal with it are serious questions. But the wrong answer is to say that subjective feelings trump objective facts. It really is amazing to hear those who croak "follow the science!" at every opportunity, in this case demand the physical sciences be cast aside and expurgated as if they never existed.

Let me spell out for you what the so-called "therapy" -- which Mr. Winters says the bishops should allow for, if not endorse -- consists of:

- "Affirm only": this is the stance advocated by many in the "transgender community," and which is being endorsed at the highest levels, including our federal government. It means that if anyone -- even a toddler -- says, in effect, "my body isn't me, I may look like a girl, but I'm really a boy" -- or something else, e.g., "non binary," then the only acceptable response is to "affirm." Anything else is deemed "transphobia," "hate" and all other evil things.

- "Affirm only" means addressing Claudia as "Claude" from thenceforward and dressing him, er, "her" accordingly. Only, changing gender does not require any change of clothing, because that would reinforce oppressive "gender norms." But if Claudia wants to dress differently, "affirm"!

- Next comes the administration of drugs; hormones that will, in sufficiently high dosages, cause a female body to become more masculine, and vice-versa. And so-called "puberty blockers" which do exactly what they say: a young person's body that is about to enter puberty is prevented from doing so.

Do you realize no one really knows what affects these drugs will have, long-term? There are reports that they can cause infertility; and if you go looking, you will find numerous reports of individuals who went through this, only to discover that they couldn't function sexually afterward. And then you have the trauma of someone regretting it all and "de-transitioning." I cannot imagine the pain and regret involved in having your body be distorted and mutilated, only to conclude it was all a colossal mistake.

Now, you may say, oh but Mr. Winters didn't endorse any of that; and technically, that's true. But what, precisely, does he expect to change about the bishops' guidance as a result of "listen[ing] to health workers"? Who thinks this is about which brand of pain-killer to prescribe after the procedures? This is transparently about whether there can be any circumstances allowing for so-called "gender therapy," and the obvious answer to anyone who knows anything about the Catholic faith, is no. Mr. Winters is so ready to call other people, including bishops, not-very-smart; but to offer this pretense about flexibility is either a sign that he isn't very smart, or else he thinks you aren't.

Why can't the bishops allow this?

You know, this is not even primarily a function of doctrine. First and foremost, it is a scientific question. What makes someone male and female? What does this reality of biology -- if it is real, if biology is real -- consist of? These are questions on which science has very well settled answers; only in the very rarest circumstances is there true ambiguity about someones sexual identity. Even where the body parts may be malformed or there can be both male and female parts, the proof of sexual identity is found in the cells. 

We used to have a term to describe the state of misperceiving reality around one; the kinder term today is mental illness. Again, this is a real thing and deeply painful to all involved. But there is no love in going along with it, when that means causing actual harm, even if I don't know how to relieve you of the conflict you experience with reality. I have known people who experienced particular forms of mental illness; this is not a hypothetical.

The other day, I had a conversation with one of our teachers at Bishop Leibold School, which is part of the "family" of parishes which I pastor. Our school has earned several awards for it's "STEM" program (standing for science, technology, engineering and math). It occurs to me that right now, our society is asking everyone to practice a kind of cognitive dissonance. When it comes to engineering, there is no such thing as personal laws of physics or subjective mathematics. If you try to build a bridge according to any other but the one set of physical laws, that bridge will fail. Such is the respect we supposedly have for all sciences, this far into the modern era. Oh but not biology! Then we are told we must suspend all natural laws upon request. Men can have wombs; women can have penises. It is all madness, and the same wilful defiance of reality will end as badly as a collapsed bridge, if not far worse.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

What my last 18 months has been like and why I've been so absent

Those three or four people who still read my blog surely have noticed almost complete radio silence for nearly a year, which ends now. Herewith the story.

Catholics in this area know that the Archdiocese of Cincinnati has been in throes of a massive reorganization for the past two-to-three years, called "Beacons of Light." About three-to-four years ago, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr set in motion a close examination of the present situation, and the likely near-future situation, for both priest availability and for enrollment in parishes and schools. To his credit, the Archbishop determined he would not take a band-aid approach; and also, that he would learn from the mistakes of the prior "pastoral region" clustering approach.

That resulted plans unveiled in the second half of 2021 to create out of about 200 parishes, approximately 55 or so "families" of parishes. In a few cases, very large parishes remained on their own; otherwise, parishes were grouped together. Most priests were reassigned, effective July 1, 2023, and it was a real shock to the system. 

So, the parish where I was pastor for eight years, Saint Remy, went from being on its own, to becoming one of seven rural parishes in a new family. Most families didn't embrace so many parishes, but a fair number were that large. 

I was reassigned; I was named pastor of a new family made up of Our Lady of Good Hope, Saint Mary, and Saint Henry parishes on the south side of Dayton. I had no desire to go anywhere, but I had no choice about leaving Russia; the only choice I had was to accept the proposed assignment, or else take a pass and see what came in the second round. I will not hide that it made me extremely sad to leave Saint Remy.

Worst of all was that when I was informed in November that I would be leaving the parish I loved, and whose people had shown me such great love, I was ordered not to discuss this with anyone. That was extremely difficult, as there were rumors swirling, and parishioners asked me about what was coming, and I had to answer with extreme care so as (a) not to reveal anything and (b) not lie. I did not lie, but I was exceedingly careful in my answers, and I fear some people -- when later heard my announcement of my departure, remembered answers I gave, and may have wondered if I'd deceived them. That thought hurt the most.

(Before moving on, let me here add that I understand the need for this whole project, and also for why pastors were moved. I don't take it personally. And, truth to tell, had I remained where I was, my life was still going to change drastically, and it is very possible that it would have all gone badly in that family of parishes.)

When February rolled around, I was allowed to make my move public, and so a great number of gears all started turning. The parishes where I was headed were losing familiar faces, too, and we had several new priests arriving for the family of parishes to which St. Remy would belong. The sorting, packing and moving weren't the big task; the great task was to begin -- as early as three months before I would become pastor -- laying the foundations for what was going to happen:

- Reach out to the three finance committees, to gain cooperation on financial decisions and cost-sharing. Very likely whatever plans we started with would not be sufficient, and would need revising before long; but I wanted to make sure our finance folks were fully informed and included.

- Reach out to all the employees of the three parish offices, as well as the school employees, to get acquainted and head off too many rumors.

- Reach out to all parishioners as well. This we did with a letter from me, to every household. I knew from experience how much misinformation and negativity can get going in a void of information.

- Meet with the other priests and the deacons, to get to know each other and start on a good foot.

Amidst all that came packing and unpacking, and lots of ordinary duties of a pastor and a priest, both on the way out of one parish, and the way into a new assignment.

The things I decided had to take priority were:

1) Communication to all concerned;

2) A successful reorganization of the parish staff, so that I manage them well, have help to manage parish needs, and also lay the foundation for our family of parishes to come together as one, and become an evangelizing community.

Very quickly, I realized that completing these tasks successfully meant I had to focus on a few things, and decline to get involved in other things. I turned down requests for meetings and events, and I put off various projects that came to me. It distressed me to make virtually no plans for the Eucharistic Revival that is underway, but I didn't control the timing of all this.

We organized a series of "Meet the Pastor" evenings at the three parishes; lots attended and it went well. Someone wrote down all the questions, and later, I posted these questions, and my answers, online; some of this also made it into the bulletin.

While I declined to meet with each pastoral advisory council separately (because I didn't want group A to get valuable information ahead of group B or C), I did meet regularly with all three, together. Thank God, they were very willing to do that; same with the finance committees.

I formed a "Transition Committee," with three leaders from each parish. The purpose of this group was to be a sounding board for several decisions that might later prove to be contentious; I wanted to have their backing when the decisions were announced -- such as, where the priests would live, what changes would happen with the staff, and how the parish offices might be reorganized.

It took until after Christmas to create job descriptions (with the help of the Transition Committee) for the five leadership positions I would be creating, to help me supervise the combined employees of the parishes and Bishop Leibold School. Then I had to think about how the rest of the staff would be arranged -- what new positions might be created, and which ones would go away; all this had to be mindful of the budgets involved. There was a very real chance that when it was all said and done, some valuable employees would no longer have a job! I had never had to do this sort of reorganization and I was only going to get one chance to do it right.

By mid-February, I had an organizational chart for all anticipated parish staff (the school staff was unaffected); that's when I realized that the time to announce the details of the reorganization would be better in late March, so that the whole business of interviewing and hiring wouldn't hit in the weeks before Holy Week and Easter, but after. The plan was to announce this whole thing to all our staff, and thus, to the parishioners. I would be interviewing applicants (employees and others) for the five leadership positions, and then once they were hired, the rest of the staffing would be sorted. While I was going to do all I could to keep a position for our existing staff, I had to be candid that there might be positions eliminated; in which case, I planned to be very generous with severance.

By the way -- all this I shared, ahead of time, with the aforementioned Transition Committee, and the other priests, and the finance chairmen. Thank God, the input improved the plan, and everyone was supportive.

On March 22, the whole thing went public at an all-staff meeting. It was a shock to many, although to be fair, I'd told people at a restructuring of the staff was coming. Everyone was welcome to ask questions, and I offered to meet with each employee one-on-one.

Very quickly, with help from the priests, our principal and several Transition Committee members, we advertised and interviewed for these positions: Director of Operations, Director of Faith Formation, Director of Involvement and Engagement, Director of Care, and Director of Worship. Many employees applied -- we were careful to keep things confidential for their benefit -- and of the five directors ultimately hired, four were existing employees. 

All this had to move fairly fast to resolve uncertainties and to get the team in place. So from mid-April to mid-May, we had five sets of interview teams and interviews, and five rapid-fire announcements of new hires.

For the last month, the pace has only slightly let up: other staff positions were sorted, and a lot of payroll paperwork and office arrangements and transitions had to be arranged. As I write these words, there is one position still to fill. It was not necessary to lay anyone off or downgrade anyone's position. We did have one outstanding employee accept a new position outside the family of parishes. 

Right now, several staff members are still "transitioning" from old duties to new. Part of the timing of all this was to have this phase of it fall in the summer, when things calm down for most parish staff.

But all my new hires are on the job and they are setting to their tasks with vigor. We got all the school and parish employees together for a happy hour two weeks ago, to celebrate the conclusion (near enough) of the re-org, and to say thanks to our valuable staff who'd been through some anxious weeks. I regret that people had some sleepless nights, but I honestly don't know how else it might have been pulled off. At any rate, things have settled down.

We're close to our budget for all this -- finance chairman have been kept informed. 

One of the things I told people all along, as a major reason why this staff reorganization had to happen, and soon, was that I was missing things. Now my staff is finding lots of things that indeed were being missed; thankfully, no crises, but putting new budgeting procedures in place, and making plans for significantly improved communication to our parishioners, and more besides, will help prevent future problems.

Before I close this out, I want to emphasize several things. 

Coming into this, I didn't know how it would all go, but I had to be prepared for it all going badly. With profuse thanks to Almighty God, and everyone in this family of parishes, it has all gone very well. I was prepared for so many ways the wheels could have gone off: people being protective of their turf, not wanting to cooperate, worrying about expenses and so forth. Not to mention any number of other crisis -- external or internal -- that might have come along to blow it all up.

Everyone has had a good will and tried to be flexible. It's very hard to overstate how much this has helped me, and helped us all, in this whole process!

Looking forward, our "leadership team" members all have marching orders for the next few weeks and next few months, and we're all getting to know each other. Our Director of Care, for example, has the mission of coordinating and maximizing all that our family of parishes does to carry out the corporal works of mercy. A lot is already happening, but won't it be wonderful if, in years to come, we look back and see an explosion of apostolic works of mercy in this community?

This post doesn't necessarily mean that I'm not awfully busy, but it does mean things have steadied out.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Yes, babies can participate in Mass (Corpus Christi homily)

Pope Francis will often create a homily 

around three words from the readings; 

that’s what I am going to do today.


The three words are “Remember,” “Participation” and “True.”


Let’s start with Moses telling God’s People to “remember.” 

Remember how God directed your journey,” he said.

That was the point of the Passover, with the sacrificed lamb: 

to remember God’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt.


But for Moses and the people, 

that remembering didn’t just involve a thought process. 

By sharing the sacrificial meal together, 

they went back in time in a sense, truly reliving the saving events.


And that is what happens in Holy Mass. 

You and I are, in a real sense, present at Calvary.

Present at the empty tomb. 

Present at the eternal supper of the Lamb.


Even though those are events either in the past, or ahead of us,

Nevertheless, God makes all these things present:

That’s what “remembering” means to God;

Because, remember, there is no past or future for God;

He is the same yesterday, today and forever.


Now let’s add in St. Paul’s word: “participation.”

A lot of people misunderstand what it means to “participate” in Mass.


While it’s good to give the responses, or to sing, 

or perhaps to help as a reader or usher 

or someone else helping at Mass,

these are not the primary way you or I “participate” in Mass.


So, someone might say, the Mass is in Spanish, so I can’t participate.

I can’t see, or I can’t hear, so I can’t participate.


Yes, these are legitimate concerns, but stop and think:

Do we really mean to say that folks with bad eyesight, 

or bad hearing, can’t “participate”? 

That can’t be the right answer.

No, even if you don’t understand the language, you still participate.


The fundamental way we participate is by our intention:

We join our prayers and faith with the prayers of God’s People, 

and above all, with Jesus himself, who is the true priest,

who really is the one offering the Mass.


Sometimes people won’t bring their children to Mass, and they’ll say, 

“oh they are too young to get anything out of Mass.”


My answer is, what about grace?

Isn’t that the key? We don’t come to Mass to get a bulletin or a homily or – 

sorry to shock you – even to get Holy Communion.


We come to be united with Jesus in his suffering, death and resurrection. 

That’s what we come to “do” and what we “get.”


If we reduce participation to, “I gotta do this or that,” 

or, “I have to get communion” that is a mistake.

It wrongly suggests that if you aren’t able-bodied 

or maybe not that mentally alert, 

or if you aren’t receiving the Eucharist, 

You have no reason to be at Mass.


The true reason to be here is because Jesus chooses – 

in the Mass – to offer himself in the fullest possible way.

It’s true most of the Apostles weren’t at the Cross – 

but shouldn’t they have been? Mary was there! 

What kind of disciple would say, “I don’t need to be there.”


And let me explain that the reason some people 

shouldn’t receive the Eucharist is not about “worthiness” – 

because no one is ever worthy – but about “readiness.”

Not everyone is ready for that most intimate form of participation.


Some are too young – First Communion comes usually in second grade.

Some are wrestling with mortal sins and need confession.

Still others haven’t decided what they believe;

Or whether they really want to commit themselves.


If Holy Communion is important – and of course it is! –

Then we do say, if you are entering into this most solemn act,

Then yes, examine your faith, examine your conscience, first.


Now let’s look at the third word, from the Gospel: “True.”

Jesus – who is the Truth – tells us, 

“My Body is true food. My blood is true drink.”

Through history there has come division among Christians, 

And sadly, we don’t all share this same understanding.

We Catholics must bear witness to what Jesus himself says:

Holy Communion isn’t bread and wine, it isn’t merely a symbol.

The Mass truly is a sacrifice, of Jesus’ true Body and Blood.


You and I cannot be smug or superior.

Yet: this Gift of the True Sacrifice and True Presence is here!

Ask the Holy Spirit for words of grace and love, to tell others!

Invite people to come and pray in our church.

Explain: that’s the altar; that’s the tabernacle. 

Welcome people to discover Jesus in our midst. 

Sunday, June 04, 2023

The Trinity is the destination (Sunday homily)

 


So, if I could, I would be showing you a picture right now.

Instead, use your imagination:

You see an adult, with children walking behind; 

and they are all holding onto a rope, 

the end of which mom or dad is holding.


The reason, of course, is that it’s not easy for a parent – 

or a teacher or scout leader – to keep all the children close, 

and there are times that is really important. 


And the point I’m making is that in a similar way,

You and I need to keep clear the links between Easter and Pentecost 

and this feast of the Holy Trinity.


Today’s feast emphasizes the “point” of Jesus giving the Holy Spirit:

To bring us into the life of the Holy Trinity.


To put it another way: Jesus’ mission 

is to bring us into relationship with God. 

Today is when we talk about who that God is.


Some people will say, who cares if God is a Trinity?

I just believe in God, that’s all that is needed.


OK. But you know, the Romans said Julius Caesar was a god.

Is that your god? Not my god.

And if God himself says, let me tell you who I am, 

wouldn’t it rude to respond: “Oh I don’t care!”


The reason we say God is a Trinity is because Jesus told us this.

Let me add another reason why clarity matters.


I have a friend who I hadn’t seen for many years; 

and we got talking and he caught me up. 

He’d gotten married, and it turned out, his wife was Muslim. 

Then he told me, he became a Muslim; he renounced Jesus!

And he tried to say, oh, it’s all the same.


No disrespect to our Muslim neighbors, but it’s not.

Muslims would be the first to tell you that.  

Islam does not accept that Jesus is God, the Son of the Father, 

and that the Father, through the Son, gives us the Holy Spirit. 


For other religions, the idea of a relationship with God makes no sense, 

because they don’t believe God is relatable; because he’s not personal.

That’s essential to what the word “person” means: 

capable of relating in a full way.


So I mention that friend, because I was left wondering, 

how had he not understood the significance 

of going from Christian to Muslim?


You see, this is not a peripheral thing; 

this goes to the heart of Christianity:

God is a relationship of Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit –

The whole point is to bring us into that relationship. That Life.


Of course, we might respond, how can I “relate” to God?

The answer is, without God’s help, without grace, it is impossible;

any more than a gnat or a bacteria germ can relate to you or me.

So, again, this is the point:

God descends, down, down, down, way, way down, to our level.

But not to say hi and leave; but to take us with him, back …

Up, up, up, in, deeper, deeper, all the way in to the heart of God!


Saint Paul said, “eye has not seen, ear has not heard,” 

what God has planned for us. So of course, yes, it boggles us.


I say again, this is what Jesus told us.

He came to show us the Father. He and the Father are one.

The Father gives us – through Jesus – the Holy Spirit.


He came, as he said, to give us life; 

not the life of an amoeba or bird, but the Life of God. 

He says: I am the Vine, you are the branches.

The vine and branches don’t have two radically different forms of life; 

they share the very same life, which passes between them.


So, short answer: why do we believe God is a Trinity?

Because Jesus, who proved himself to be truthful, told us so.

And also: that Trinitarian life is the destination Jesus is leading us to.